A little thread for these jewels of the repertoire.
I'll be the first to admit that I've never been the biggest fan of Haydn's music. Though most of his symphonies are pleasant, only a few of them have actually ever stood out to me in my listening (#88, 103, 104) and even these I could never find myself to listen to as much as Mozart's Jupiter or 39th, Beethoven's Eroica or 9th, Bruckner's 9th, Mahler's 2nd, Brahms's 4th and the such. And after an attempted foray into Haydn's daunting oeuvre, I found that my initial enthusiasm with his music had died down into a sort of accepting appreciation and a deep respect for music that I knew was great but simply could not come to terms with myself.
When I first began to discover Haydn's piano sonatas, string quartets, oratorios and masses, I felt a bit cheated. I had always been told that Haydn was the "father of the symphony" and that if I didn't get his symphonies first and foremost there was something wrong. But what I found in these other areas of his output was simply a delight. Along with some of his concerti, it really showed me what a well-rounded composer the man truly was, having written such diverse masterpieces as the Creation, Symphony No. 104, op. 50 and op. 76 quartets, Trumpet Concerto, and the Lord Nelson Mass. And then there were the piano sonatas.
Much has been said about Haydn's chamber music, choral works, and symphonies here of late. The piano sonatas, however, have a very special place among his works for me. It was only last year that I decided to perform my first Haydn sonata, after being stuck on Beethoven among classical era sonatas practically all my life. It's during this time too that I first discovered a beautiful Georgian pianist from the Rubinstein Competition named Khatia Buniatishvili, whose Schumann Fantasie has a hypnotizing effect on me even to this day. But she also played the Haydn c minor sonata (which only later did I discover was numbered 33, Hob. XVI:20) with such feeling that I sensed that I could feel the colors of each of Haydn's modulations shifting and surging almost like an artistic display of colored lights. This particular sonata had such emotionally written in tempo changes and dynamic changes that somehow the music just sprang out of the page at me, came to life as vividly as would a dance from Stravinsky's Le Sacre. And this is how I really came into terms with Haydn, having the privilege to get to know this work under my fingers and having it molded into my subconscious.
One day a couple months ago, I was in an utterly unmotivated, tired state, absolutely nothing to stimulate my mind. This was when I decided to drive to my piano teacher's house, where long ago I had discovered the Well Tempered Clavier and found it a lifelong companion. She had all three sets of Haydn's sonatas on her shelves and I began to go through each of them one by one. Of course I had heard of the C Major and Eb Major sonatas before, but as I played them for the first time, there was just this infectious sense of love for the music, each note, each clever modulation, in my body, which in turn restored a sort of joie de vivre in me that I had not felt for a good long while. Haydn was so clever so witty, so interesting, and so beautifully balanced - somehow a lot more fresh to me than many of those Mozart sonatas that for all my life I've been told were far superior. They're not. Haydn far surpasses Mozart in this repertoire in my opinion, though that's not a fault of Mozart himself, who wrote most of his piano music for his students. In contrast, one can sense how personal Haydn's sonatas were for him - the new sense of discovery in each chromatic harmony that oozes out of the Hob XVI:52, the heart-wrenching transition from unyielding b minor to sensitive d major in the Hob XVI:32, the sudden surge of anger from D major to d minor in the Hob XVI:37.
It was a bit like finding a balance between Beethoven and Mozart for me, the best of both worlds which I had never even known existed. It's definitely a place I'd like to remain as long as I could, and while I'm there I have about a couple dozen of more sonatas to get to know well, all facets of Haydn's creative personality which I must say I find bland and unmemorable no longer.
Anyways, I didn't mean to hog the thread with my long, quite superfluous narrative. I'm sure many of you love these works just as much as I do and have plenty to say as well.